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Total War: Shogun 2 - The most tactical RTS to date?

Casting a eye across the multiplayer battlefield

As an RTS, there's always the temptation to put the Total War series up against the likes of like Command & Conquer or the massive Starcraft series.

Spend ten minutes with a Total War game, however, and you'll realise it's probably the only game of its kind to put the "real" in Real Time Strategy.

With the combination of a RISK style map - where markers are shifted from territory to territory - and a 3D engine that gives players control over hundreds of men across large scale battlefields when it comes to conflict, Total War can go more in-depth than any of its competitors ever dreamed.

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With the return of the Shogun era, Creative Assembly has made a conscious decision to hold back in terms of scale in order to pack more detail in than ever.

We were chucked into the deep end of the online multiplayer elements, where the UK dev team is keen to avoid a cheap addition tacked on to the main campaign for the sake of it.

The aim, then, is to capture the essence of Total War; a campaign based game that puts a context around every battle, pulling the player in and out of the bigger picture all the time.

This time, that bigger picture - that board game map - is included in multiplayer mode. You're given a context, a reason to fight and a route to progress down rather than just a string of meaningless skirmishes.

It's all about getting players to feel ownership of the army, to identify with their units and the all-important general. Total War campaigns achieve that through deep mechanics and massive scale. The question is, can that be achieved in the realm of multiplayer?

READY FOR BATTLE
After creating your character name, customising your banner colours and polishing your armour to make sure your men look unique and just a little bit spiffing on the battlefield, you're then presented with a map of Japan divided up into 65 land provinces and 12 naval regions.

Straight away you'll start to see the multiplayer's similarities to the classic single-player system. In fact, this is exactly the same map as you'll get in Shogun 2's campaign, only it works a bit differently online.

As always, your avatar and army is represented by a token which you shove along the map to a particular region. This time, however, when you give the go ahead to attack that area, you're plunged into a multiplayer battle.

It can be any multiplayer battle of your choosing, you can be thrown into a conflict at random or set preferences and be hand-picked by the game's match making system. The important bit is, if you come out victorious, you're awarded the region you encroached upon on the map complete with all the perks it offers.

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Different regions of Japan play host to dojos, for example, which in turn house different unit types.

Don't worry, you'll start off with a fully rounded set of units at the beginning. Players are handed cavalry units as well as infantry, archers and other units needed to have a full Total War battle right from the word "attack". Capturing a region with a dojo, however, will upgrade your army by unlocking a new unit on a particular progression line.

All the time, you're capturing more territory, gaining new units and building up XP. Importantly, by choosing different regions to attack and gaining different bits and pieces on your blood-soaked journey, your army will develop in a way that could be completely different to the one your mate is sporting.

Your military might well be set apart from the rest, however, depending on where you spend XP in Shogun 2's progression system. It's a familiar 'branch style' layout with different routes catering for different approaches and tactical preferences.

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